NPR Blogs

Hearing Aid Evolution Unveils What The World Sounds Like In '3-D'

NPR Health Blog - Sun, 07/13/2014 - 5:03pm
Hearing Aid Evolution Unveils What The World Sounds Like In '3-D' July 13, 2014 5:03 PM ET Listen to the Story 4 min 33 sec   i i

Kathleen Raven, a health reporter, found out she had hearing loss when she was 5 years old.

Jessica Horwitz

As hearing aid technology has improved, so has health reporter Kathleen Raven's confidence.

When she was 5 years old, she found out she had a hearing problem. Complications during her birth led to damage in her inner ear.

"I couldn't hear water dripping from a faucet. I couldn't hear crickets on a summer night," she tells NPR's Kelly McEvers. "I couldn't hear sirens, couldn't hear fire alarms in our school fire drills, so I did a lot of watching other people."

The diagnosis was moderate to severe loss of high- and low-frequency hearing. When it comes to speech, certain sounds are out of range for her. Sounds like "ch," "sh" and "th" blend together.

Raven says she reads lips "religiously," but when she can't see a person's lips, she can understand maybe every third word — that is, without a hearing aid.

She got her first hearing aids — a large, clunky set — back when she was 5 in 1993.

"They were about 2 inches long and very thick, and they connected to a very large ear mold inside my ear," she says. "They call them flesh-colored, but they're not the color of anyone's flesh." Her young classmates teased her.

But the technology kept changing. Every few years, her parents would shell out $4,000 to $5,000 on each new device. By the time she got to high school, she had her first completely inside-the-ear hearing aid. That changed everything.

"I just became more confident walking into crowds. I didn't try to hide, I didn't arrange my hair to cover my ears. I started being more talkative, going out with my friends more," says Raven. "I didn't realize how much that fear had impacted me until I got completely in-the-ear hearing aids."

She went on to college and started pursuing her dream of reporting.

"I encountered a few raised eyebrows along the way," she says. "Why do you want to make a living of hearing people when that's a challenge for you?"

She pushed past the skeptics and became a reporter. Today she writes about oncology for BioPharm Insight.

As years passed and the technology progressed, Raven thought her hearing had maxed out. But with each upgrade, she discovered more sounds. Two years ago, she received her latest pair, which cost $7,000.

When her audiologist put them in her ears, she heard an unfamiliar noise. "I just happened to smack my lips together, like you're tasting something," she recalls. "It's just such a simple sound, but it was earth-shattering."

Her audiologist put on Beethoven, and she heard new instruments and trills. "It was like seeing the world in 3-D, or hearing the world in 3-D for the first time," Raven says.

These latest hearing aids are basically invisible. Even still, now she tells people about her hearing loss.

"Five years ago, I still was not ever telling people unless it was absolutely necessary. And now I do work it into conversation in the first five minutes or so," she says. If she needs to ask someone to repeat something, she'll just add, "I have a hearing problem."

"That phrase was impossible for me to say for the first 20 years of my life," Raven says. "Now I think it's very important for hearing loss to be accepted for younger people, of course, and also for older people."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit
Categories: NPR Blogs

Searching For Stress Relief? Try Feeling Your Breath

NPR Health Blog - Sat, 07/12/2014 - 10:09am
Searching For Stress Relief? Try Feeling Your Breath July 12, 201410:09 AM ET Listen to the Story 3 min 57 sec   i i

Stressed? Try taking a fresh look at what's actually going on.


Many Americans are swamped with stress, but there may be ways to ease the tension without changing the circumstances.

Almost half of all adults say they've experienced a major stressful event in the past year, according to a poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Shots - Health News Stressed Out: Americans Tell Us About Stress In Their Lives

Meditation can help people cope, says author Sharon Salzberg, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass.

Salzberg teaches "mindfulness," which she describes as a way of looking at the world without bias, fears or assumptions. "We have the opportunity to take a fresh look at our experience," she tells NPR's Tamara Keith.

Salzberg says getting that new perspective starts with taking a deep breath.

Interview Highlights

Mindfulness is not just focusing on the good things in life

Shots - Health News People Asked A Stress Psychologist Just About Everything On Reddit

[It's] focusing on everything, so that we're with it as it actually is. With pleasant and wonderful things, maybe we're so distracted we don't get to enjoy them. With painful and difficult things, maybe we add on shame and blame and dread and all of these things which make the bad ... or difficult situation so much worse. And with neutral experience, just ordinary routine, we tend to rely on intensity in order to feel alive.

Mindfulness training is about changing your relationship to everything. It's not changing the thing, but we're different with our experience.

On how mindfulness and mediation can help with serious chronic health issues like diabetes

I think it can, because the way we hold an experience like that, you know, sometimes we feel tremendously alone, we feel isolated, we're caught in this kind of corrosive self-hatred. One of the ways of understanding meditation is that it's about connection; it's connecting to other aspects of yourself, so that you're not only the diagnosis. That might be a benefit.

An example of a mindfulness exercise

Often we start just by listening to sound [like ocean waves]. ... Then bring your attention to the feeling of the breath. See if you can feel just one breath. If you find your attention slipping away, you get lost in thought, spun out in fantasy, or you're falling asleep, don't worry about it. You can practice just letting go gracefully, and bring your attention back to the feeling of the breath.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit
Categories: NPR Blogs

People Asked A Stress Psychologist Just About Everything On Reddit

NPR Health Blog - Sat, 07/12/2014 - 8:03am
People Asked A Stress Psychologist Just About Everything On Reddit July 12, 2014 8:03 AM ET i i

Take a deep breath.


We've been asking Americans about stress in their lives.

i i

Psychologist Lynn Bufka tackled a wide range of questions about how to cope with stress during an online chat Friday.

Jessica Pupovac/NPR

On Friday, the tables were turned when Dr. Lynn Bufka, a licensed psychologist with expertise in treating anxiety, stress and related problems, came to NPR to take questions on Reddit about coping with stress.

Bufka, who works at the American Psychological Association in Washington, D.C., is on Twitter: @DrBufka.

She said that the questions during the "Ask Me Anything" session were common issues that her patients ask about all the time. "We're all going to experience stress," she told Shots. "It's a normal part of our day, but we have a choice in how we respond to it."

When asked if doing the AMA was stressful for her, she responded, "No, not really." Besides, she said, "It was fun and a little challenging — but I like to be challenged. If one person learned something helpful then that's great."

Here are some of the highlights from Reddit, edited for length and clarity. You can find the full set of questions and answers here.

How much can stress affect my ability to make small talk? What do you recommend I do to avoid/reduce stress most effectively?

Stress can interfere with many things we try to do. Some people can be very anxious about being evaluated socially and therefore are reluctant to make small talk because they are concerned about how other people will perceive their comments. In those situations, try to focus on the other person and draw him or her out. Once he or she is chatting, you may start to feel more comfortable too.

Lots of strategies can reduce stress — try to maintain regular sleep/eat/exercise habits as much as possible, say "no" when overwhelmed with tasks, turn off news/information for some mental downtime, spend time with people who make you feel good, participate in something with others (a sport, volunteering, religious services) or maybe find your own quiet rituals to take some slow breaths and let go of the day's pressures. These are only a start in trying to reduce stress.

What small steps do I have to overcome when dealing with social anxiety? It has come to the point where I can barely go out and find a job, I barely socialise with people and I stay at home, that is where my comfort zone ends, which I understand is extreme. So any advice on how to deal with social anxiety?

Try to identify situations that make you a little anxious but you think you can do. Maybe making small talk with a family member, or making eye contact with the person you are buying items from, and practice those. Make yourself mini practice assignments that seem doable, track how you do and as you practice them they will become easier.

Here's something many people find very surprising: Most people are paying more attention to themselves, not you. You might feel anxious and might be concerned that you look nervous, but the person next to you might feel the same way about himself, or she might be looking at the time and wondering if she'll catch her bus, or they might be thinking about what to cook for dinner! ...

Shots - Health News Stressed Out: Americans Tell Us About Stress In Their Lives

Is it normal for family to be a very large source of stress in my life? (No abuse, just trying to live up to their expectations)

Family can be stressful for a variety of reasons, even if that same family is a source of love and support. Sometimes, it is just the busyness of lives — lots of people with different activities and different ideas and just trying to stay connected can be a challenge.

However, if it is about trying to live up to expectations, part of the challenge is helping your family understand who you are and what motivates and interests you so that they can be supportive of your aims and goals. Families, no matter how much they love us, sometimes have ideas about who we are supposed to be that don't match up with who we really are, and navigating that is tricky. Trying to have an open conversation is a good first step.

Is it possible to be totally stress-free in society nowadays?

I'm not sure we want to be totally stress free. Sometimes stress makes us work harder, get more prepared for tasks we are facing, or perform better. Stress sometimes results from good things — like getting married or bringing a new pet into the home!

However, we want to be aware of those situations in which we feel overwhelmed by demands. That is when we want to try and reduce our stress, by doing things like changing the demands (when possible), or changing how we think about situations. Sometimes the situations are stressful and sometimes we make them more stressful because we pile on expectations or mental demands or perfectionism even beyond whatever the situation is.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit
Categories: NPR Blogs
Syndicate content